Communication Tip: Learn from Bad Examples

It is natural for us to model the best in any field. As speakers, we like to look to the other great orators like Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, or John F. Kennedy. However, it is also helpful to watch speakers who, well, are not as adept so that we can learn from their mistakes and know what to avoid.

The best example for bad speakers seems to be the place we would expect good oratory: the government. When I watched the opening session of President Clinton’s impeachment hearings, I saw the following lapses of good public speaking:

  • Frequent uses of ah’s, um’s, and filler words.
  • Unclear speaking voice. One speaker tended to mumble.
  • Lack of vocal variety.
  • Responses that did not address a question. (Or questions to subjects unrelated to issues that a speaker previously made.)

(And, no, I will not go into the content or political issues discussed in that session.)

As you watch speakers like these, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do I feel as a listener of this speaker? Do such speaking problems bother me? Why or why not?
  • Am I also guilty of the same faults?
  • If I were coaching this speaker, what advice would I give him or her?
  • How can I use this information to help myself?

The goal in listening to speakers like these is not to ridicule them or to make yourself feel superior to them, if you do have better speaking skills. The goal is to help yourself become more aware of the requirements of good speaking and to use the information to become a better speaker.

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